By: Sophia Catalano, DVM
Whether you’re a new pet parent or an experienced one, you may wonder if it’s safe and/or healthy to give your dog peanut butter. Many peanut butters are, indeed, safe for most healthy dogs. Peanut butter is commonly used when giving medications, but can serve some other really useful purposes in your dog’s training and playtime. However, you should discuss with your veterinarian whether your dog in particular should have peanut butter.
Here’s what you need to know about ways to use peanut butter, health and safety considerations for your dog, and how much you should give them.
How Much Peanut Butter Can a Dog Eat?
Just because a dog can eat peanut butter doesn’t mean you can give them as much as they want. You will need to consider the calories and the fat, and limit the amount accordingly.
Peanut butter is high in calories and fat, so less is more.
Peanut butter is energy-dense, with around 180-200 calories per 2 tablespoons—most of which comes from fat. That means the calories in peanut butter add up quickly. Ask your vet how many calories your dog should be eating per day, including both meals and treats. No more than 10% of your dog’s total calories per day should come from treats. Only give as much peanut butter as your dog needs for giving medications, using in a puzzle feeder, or for bath-time cooperation, and not any extra. For some medication, only a pea-sized amount of peanut butter will do. If given as a treat, your dog will find a small amount to be just as thrilling as a large amount.
As a starting point, it is reasonable to limit peanut butter offerings to:
- ½ teaspoon for a small dog, twice per day
- 1 teaspoon for a medium or large dog, twice per day as a maximum amount
Your individual dog’s needs may vary based on their general health and diagnosed conditions. If your dog is on a special diet, or has been diagnosed with diseases like diabetes, pancreatitis, obesity, or sensitive stomach, ask your vet if peanut butter is still okay for you to give.
Peanut butter is not a balanced source of nutrition.
Could the high calorie content of peanut butter help skinny dogs that need to gain weight? Unfortunately, the answer is not healthfully. Peanut butter does not provide a balanced source of nutrients, as it is mostly fat. For that reason, feeding excessive amounts may do more harm than good for an under-nourished dog. After examining your dog for underlying health concerns, your vet will make recommendations for safe, calorie-dense diets and treats.
Dangers of Peanut Butter for Dogs
While peanut butter is the go-to treat for many pet parents, here are a few things to be careful of.
Do Not Use Peanut Butter Containing Xylitol Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that’s common in gum and sugar-free snacks, and it’s used in some brands of peanut butter. Xylitol ingestion can be life-threatening for dogs in multiple ways. Xylitol causes a sudden, dangerous drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, causes confusion, stumbling, lethargy (excessive sleepiness and depression), and seizures. When left untreated, low blood sugar can lead to death. In addition to low blood sugar, xylitol can also cause severe liver damage. Make sure your favorite brand of peanut butter is safe by reading the ingredients list printed on the label, especially for any product labeled as “sugar-free.”
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog eats a product with xylitol in it. If your regular veterinarian’s clinic is closed, call an emergency service for guidance.
Dogs Can Be Allergic to Nuts, Too
While sudden, life-threatening allergic reactions typical in humans with nut allergies are rare in dogs, other allergic signs may occur. Vomiting and diarrhea, as well as skin disorders like itching, hair loss, and excessively greasy hair coat, may all occur with a food allergy and can sometimes be severe. If you ever notice any of these signs after giving your dog peanut butter, stop offering it and call your veterinarian. bKeep in mind that if a household member is allergic to peanut butter, your dog’s mouth and breath may transfer the allergen to them or around your house.
How to Use Peanut Butter Safely With Dogs
Here are three scenarios where you might use peanut butter, plus tips on giving it to your dog safely.
Using Peanut Butter to Give Medication
Giving medications like pills and capsules can be stressful since most dogs won’t willingly eat plain medication. Peanut butter can help make this job easier by cloaking the medication in something delicious. The stickiness and intense flavor of peanut butter disguises the texture and flavor of most pills. When you first start using peanut butter to give your dog medications, be sure to offer a dollop with no medications hidden inside yet. Get them excited to eat the peanut butter by asking them to sit first, as you would for any treat, then offer it as a reward.
Once you know he or she likes peanut butter, then you can try hiding medication inside. Many dogs will gulp down the medication and peanut butter without a second thought.
Feeding Peanut Butter for Bath Time
When training your dog to tolerate bath time, try smearing a small amount of peanut butter on the wall of your tub or shower as a distraction. As they busily lick it off, they will be less focused on being washed, making it more fun for both of you.
Using Peanut Butter for Playtime
If you have a smart, high-energy dog that is highly food-motivated, consider using peanut butter with a fun puzzle feeder toy. You can fill a large Kong with kibble, seal the hole with peanut butter, and put it in the freezer for two to three hours. Offer this puzzle on an easy-to-clean floor and challenge your dog to figure out how to spill the kibble out. This is a great way to keep your dog entertained when you’re home and want to keep an eye on them, but are unable to play.
Keep your dog safe by using a xylitol-free peanut butter. Keep his or her general health and waistline in mind when offering peanut butter as a treat.
If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s diet, contact your veterinarian for help and recommendations. Every dog is different, so be mindful of how peanut butter affects them.